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Map of castles around the world

Castles are fortified residences built in Europe, the Middle East and Japan during the Middle Ages by nobility or monarchies and by military orders.


See also: Medieval Europe, Islamic Golden Age, Pre-modern Japan

While fortifications and stately homes have been known since ancient times, the combination of those functions arose in Europe around AD 900, as strongholds of local feudal lords, to hold off enemy raids by Vikings, Magyars, Saracens and nomads, as well as rival lords.

While we do not know a specific "year zero" of castle construction, the rise of castles in the 10th century is one of the features that define the transition from Early Middle Ages to the High Middle Ages.

Castles went through many stages of development, to respond to military and economic needs. They were usually built on high ground, to improve their role of defense, as well as their role for observation and prestige. A castle was usually the dominant building of a town, only contested by the church.

In some locations (notably the Middle East) Knights, men of noble birth skilled in warfare from horseback, organized into quasi-religious orders, commissioned a number of castles.

The adoption of gunpowder weapons from the 14th to the 17th centuries made castles gradually less useful as fortifications, and replaced by bastion forts. The style with towers and battlements remained as ornaments of palaces and grand houses well into the 19th century (see Renaissance architecture), and can still be seen in novelty architecture.



Three Gothic castles, strategically positioned so as to allow fire signalling between each other, adorn the Kyrenia Mountains. They were built (or re-built) by the Lusignans, a royal family of French origin, who established a kingdom on the island facing the Holy Land during the Third Crusade.

  • 1 St Hilarion Castle (south of Kyrenia off the highway to Nicosia). The best preserved and most easily accessible of the trio. Saint Hilarion Castle (Q2302532) on Wikidata Saint Hilarion Castle on Wikipedia
  • 2 Buffavento Castle (east of Kyrenia). On a lofty position, this is the highest of the mountain castles of Cyprus—and it's little wonder its name means "the challenger of the winds" in Italian. Buffavento Castle (Q301376) on Wikidata Buffavento Castle on Wikipedia
  • 3 Kantara Castle (at the base of the Karpaz Peninsula). Kantara lies east of the other two, and affords commanding views over the Karpas Peninsula, the long, finger-like cape of Cyprus extending towards the Levant. Kantara Castle (Q1271457) on Wikidata Kantara Castle on Wikipedia

Czech Republic[edit]

  • 4 Český Krumlov Castle, Zámek 59, 381 01 Český Krumlov. Home to a Baroque theatre, which is the only one in Europe that has survived in its original 18th-century configuration with no modern additions. Český Krumlov Castle (Q2164919) on Wikidata Český Krumlov Castle on Wikipedia
  • 5 Prague Castle, Hradčany, 119 08 Prague 1. Formerly the seats of the Kings of Bohemia, and today the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. Prague Castle (Q193369) on Wikidata Prague Castle on Wikipedia
  • 6 Křivoklát Castle, Křivoklát 47, 270 23 Křivoklát. Křivoklát Castle (Q1012808) on Wikidata Křivoklát Castle on Wikipedia


  • 7 Hämeen linna (Tavastehus slott), Kustaa III:n katu 6 (Hämeenlinna, Tavastia Proper). A 13th-century castle on the shores of Lake Vanajavesi. The historical centre of the Tavastia Province. Häme Castle (Q1012561) on Wikidata Häme Castle on Wikipedia
  • 8 Kastelholms slott, Kungsgårdsallén 5 (Sund, Åland; 25 km north-east of Mariehamn). A 14th-century castle, partly ruined. Kastelholm Castle (Q1735335) on Wikidata Kastelholm Castle on Wikipedia
  • 9 Olavinlinna (Olofsborg) (Savonlinna, South Savonia). A 15th-century three-tower castle on the shores of Lake Saimaa, also known as spectacular stage for the Savonlinna Opera Festival. The northernmost medieval stone fortress in the world. Olavinlinna Castle (Q251272) on Wikidata Olavinlinna on Wikipedia
  • 10 Raseborg (Raasepori), Raaseporin Linnantie 110 (Raseborg, Uusimaa). A 14th-century castle, partly ruined. Today known as the host to the annual Raseborg Summer Theatre. Raseborg Castle (Q1013619) on Wikidata Raseborg Castle on Wikipedia
  • 11 Turun linna (Åbo slott), Linnankatu 80 (Turku, Finland Proper). A 13th-century castle on the banks of the Aura River. One of the oldest buildings still in use and the largest surviving medieval building in Finland. John III of Sweden lived here before becoming king, and he built a new storey for his household. The castle houses the historic museum of Turku. Turku Castle (Q136893) on Wikidata Turku Castle on Wikipedia


Château de Falaise
Montsoreau and its Castle
  • 12 Château Guillaume-le-Conquérant de Falaise, Falaise, Normandy (Bourgogne-Franche-Comté). The, Place Guillaume le Conquérant - William the Conquerer's birthplace and an important stronghold of the Dukes of Normandy and English kings until the French king Phillipe Augustus wrested the castle from the hands of King John in 1204. The castle remains an impressive example of Norman fortification. Excellent audio-visual displays. English guided tours available (phone ahead). Castle shop. Château de Falaise (Q1011692) on Wikidata Château de Falaise on Wikipedia
  • 13 Château de Montsoreau-Musée d'art contemporain, Château de Montsoreau, +33 2 41 67 12 60, . UNESCO World Heritage Site Housed in the first castle of the Loire to have been built, this museum contains the world's largest collection of Art & Language works, assembled by Philippe Méaille during the last 25 years. Art & Language is a British art movement that has invented and deeply influenced conceptual art and music. The museum includes most famous works of Art & Language, including their renowned Mirror piece, and hosts at least two temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists a year, and many conferences. Photography is permitted. Backpacks are not permitted, but there are free lockers after entrance. Château de Montsoreau-Museum of Contemporary Art (Q36698440) on Wikidata Château de Montsoreau-Museum of Contemporary Art on Wikipedia
  • 14 Château de Pierrefonds, Pierrefonds, +33 2 41 67 12 60. A castle dating back to the 12th century, though it was renovated in the 19th century. Nevertheless, many of the original fortifications survive. Commonly used as a filming location for television series set in medieval times, perhaps most notably the BBC television series Merlin. castle of Pierrefonds (Q376699) on Wikidata Château de Pierrefonds on Wikipedia
  • 15 Guédelon Castle (Château de Guédelon). An archaeological experiment started in 1997, the castle has been under construction for 2 decades using only tools, materials, and techniques known in medieval France in that era. All handling, transport, and masonry work is completed with manual labour. As of 2022 construction is nearing completion. The construction site is open to the public and can be visited to collect funds for further construction. Guédelon Castle (Q1557685) on Wikidata Guédelon Castle on Wikipedia


Burg Rheinstein on the Rheinburgenweg
Harburg Castle on the Romantic Road

Germany has an abundance of castles as the medieval period saw a vast amount of small and tiny polities gaining de facto independence and there were several low ranking noblemen who had their own castle as a defense in case of (frequent) feuds or a safe haven from which to strike trade routes and the likes. The 13th century with the almost total collapse of central authority in the Holy Roman Empire saw a high point in feuding but even after feuds were largely eliminated and legal recourse for disputes was established new castles were constructed for various defensive and - increasingly - representative purposes.

  • 16 Marksburg, Braubach, Rhineland-Palatinate, +49 2627 536. Medieval castle above the town of Braubach. Probably one of the best preserved in Germany as it was never taken. Open to the public. Marksburg (Q257210) on Wikidata Marksburg on Wikipedia
  • 17 Burgruine Streitburg, Wiesenttal, Forchheim, Upper Franconia. This ruined castle is on a hill right next to the hill Neideck stands on (see below) "Streit" means "quarrel" in German and the tale goes that the two neighboring castles had a quarrel with each other leading to the destruction of both. The actual history doesn't confirm that tale but locals like to tell it regardless. Burgruine (Q1015542) on Wikidata Streitburg Castle on Wikipedia
  • 18 Burgruine Neideck, Wiesenttal, Forchheim, Upper Franconia. Next to Streitburg on a neighboring hill, this castle ("Neid" means envy) is said to have fallen victim to the same quarrel as Streitburg although, again, the actual history was different. Hauptburg (Q1015426) on Wikidata Neideck Castle on Wikipedia
  • 19 Nuremberg Castle. Dating in its earliest parts to around the year 1000, this castle was at times an important residence for the Emperor when he traveled around his realm. Later the castle became a major symbol of the independent Freie Reichsstadt that was only subject to the emperor (and that only in theory) and it remains to this day a symbol of the largest city in Franconia. As the former lords of this castle were the ancestors of German Kaisers Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II they liked to make some Romantic gesture harkening back to the origins of their house and trying to link their Reich to that of which Nuremberg had once been part. The later decision of the Nazis to hold their big rallies in Nuremberg was later also linked to Nuremberg's imperial history. Nuremberg Castle (Q707396) on Wikidata Nuremberg Castle on Wikipedia
  • 20Harburg Castle, Burgstr. 1, 86655 Harburg (Schwaben). One of the largest, oldest and best preserved castles in southern Germany. Extensive mediaeval complex from the 11th / 12th century. Originally it was a Staufer castle and was owned by the princely House of Oettingen-Wallerstein. Harburg Castle (Q1012188) on Wikidata Harburg Castle on Wikipedia


Italy was comprised of numerous city-states and small kingdoms from the fall of the Roman Empire until its reunification in the 19th century, many of which were frequently at war with each other, and numerous castles were built to protect the leaders of these small states.




Alcázar is the Spanish word for Moorish castles, and was derived from the Arabic word القصر (al-qaṣr). As this suggest, most castles with that name were built during Arab rule, though it is also used for a few castles that were built after the resumption of Catholic rule following the Reconquista.


Slovakia boasts the greatest castle-density in the world.

United Kingdom[edit]

Main article: Castles in Britain and Ireland
Windsor Castle

True Castles (those built for defensive purposes) in the United Kingdom were constructed from the start of Norman Conquest onward, until the early 17th century when developments in military technology rendered them less effective from a defensive viewpoint. Sometimes the castles were built on or near the basis of early pre-Norman fortifications.

Whilst there are true castles in Scotland (notably Edinburgh and Stirling), there are also a number of tower-houses (effectively fortified residences).

Northern Ireland[edit]



  • 34 Tower of London (White Tower), St Katharine's & Wapping, London EC3N 4AB. Tower of London on Wikipedia
  • 35 Windsor Castle, Windsor, SL4 1NJ. It was built by William the Conqueror following the Norman invasion in the 11th century, and has been used by the British royal family since the reign of King Henry I. It is the largest inhabited castle in the world and used by the Queen as her primary weekend residence, though the state rooms are open to the public when not in use for state ceremonies. Windsor Castle (Q42646) on Wikidata Windsor Castle on Wikipedia
  • 36 Dover Castle, Castle Hill Rd, Dover CT16 1HU, +44 370 333 1181. Dover Castle on Wikipedia
  • 37 Warwick Castle, Warwick CV34 4QU, +44 871 265 2000. Warwick Castle on Wikipedia


  • 38 Beaumaris Castle, Castle St, Beaumaris LL58 8AP, +44 1248 810361. Beaumaris Castle on Wikipedia
  • 39 Caernarfon Castle (Carnarvon Castle), Castle Ditch, Caernarfon, LL55 2AY, +44 1286 677617. (Welsh: Castell Caernarfon). An impressive work began in 1283 by England's King Edward I as his planned seat of power in his attempt to subjugate Wales. Like Beaumaris, this castle was quite functional, although never 100% completed. Notable use of this castle has included the investiture of a Princes of Wales on at least two occasions. Caernarfon Castle (Q275128) on Wikidata Caernarfon Castle on Wikipedia

Middle East[edit]

See also: Desert Castles



  • 43 Al-Qahira Castle, Ta'izz. On the slopes of Mount Sabr, built in 12th century. Cairo Castle (Q12233400) on Wikidata Al-Qahira Castle on Wikipedia

East Asia[edit]


Although China does not have a tradition of castle-building per se, the Forbidden City is surrounded by fortifications, making it resemble a castle in this respect.


Main article: Korean palaces


Main article: Japanese castles
Himeji Castle, one of the most famous examples of a Japanese castle.

While different in style from their European counterparts, Japan was also a nation of castle builders during the feudal period from the start of the Kamakura Period (12th century) to the end of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (17th century). Unlike most surviving European castles, the main keeps (天守閣 tenshukaku) of Japanese castles were largely made of wood, so many have either decomposed or been lost to fire over the years. In addition, unlike in Europe, the main keep of the castle was a purely military structure and not the lord's residence; there was typically a separate set of palace buildings where the lord lived, next to the main keep.

  • 44 Nijo Castle (二条城), 〒604-8301 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Nijojocho, 541 (Kyoto Subway Nijojo-mae sation). Served as the Tokugawa Shogun's residence whenever he was visiting the emperor in Kyoto, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not classified as an original castle as the main keep was burnt down in a fire in 1750, but the outer fortifications and main palace buildings survive. Famous for its "nightingale floors", which were deliberately designed to squeak when someone walks on them so the Shogun and his guards could be alerted to any potential assassins. Imperial Villa Nijō Castle (Q1013399) on Wikidata Nijō Castle on Wikipedia
  • 45 Himeji Castle (姫路城), 〒670-0012 Hyōgo Prefecture, Himeji, Honmachi, 68 (JR Himeji station), +81 79 285 1146, fax: +81 79 222 6050. The only original Japanese castle to have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site to date, known for its white keep. Although the main keep is the original one, the palace buildings that served as the lord's residence have not survived. Himeji Castle (Q188754) on Wikidata Himeji Castle on Wikipedia

See also[edit]

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